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Boycott in St. Louis? Not so much

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 14, 2008 - Nationally, internet web sites are filled with comments from beer drinkers who say they are switching brands because of the impending buyout.

One, posted by a writer with the screen name "IMCULTEC" on an America On Line site Monday morning, said: "Guess I'll make my own brewskis now. . . don't like foreigners taking over the reins of the Clydesdales. Doesn't feel right. Buy AMERICAN!! At least what's left, that is. Damn this Guberment!"

But any local consumer boycott of Anheuser-Busch beers likely will be scattered and short-lived unless InBev officials begin significant layoffs or make other dramatic changes in brewery operations here.

At least that was the assessment of managers and owners of some of the St. Louis area's best-known watering holes on Monday, in the hours following the announcement that Belgium-based InBev had struck a $52 million deal to take corporate control of Anheuser-Busch.

"It's still the home team," said Eddie Sholar Jr., owner of the landmark Fast Eddie's Bon Air in Alton. "Who cares where the stock is? Now if they end up cutting a couple of thousand jobs over there, maybe we'll start seeing something."

Sholar said InBev officials would be crazy to make quick, noticeable changes on Pestalozzi Street. "Why would you change anything? It would be like coming in and changing this place," he said of his bar. "You would have to be out of your mind."

Restaurant and bar owners said they noticed no drop off in demand for Anheuser-Busch products over the weekend.

At the landmark University City bar and restaurant, Blueberry Hill, owner Joe Edwards said of the proposed buyout, “change is just hard for people.”

He noted that only four to five percent of the brewery stock had remained in the hands of the Busch family and while the company’s headquarters were still in St. Louis, its ownership already was spread throughout the world.

He said he had not heard any talk of an organized boycott and was not aware that people at Blueberry Hill had indicated they would sub out their favorite Anheuser-Busch product for another of the 60 different bottled beers and 18 different draft beers available there.

He said he prefers to “look on the bright side” now that the deal is imminent.  With the expanding markets, especially in China, maybe Budweiser will become the biggest beer in the world and bring that much more pride to the St. Louis region.”

The real test, at least for downtown bars, will be later this week when the Cardinals return to Busch Stadium for an eigh-game home stand.

Walker Jureka, manager of Al Hrabosky's Ballpark Saloon just south of the stadium, said Monday that his customers have been vocal about their dislike of the InBev deal.

"I have not heard one person say he or she was for it," he said. "They all say, 'what's next?' "

He said some have said they intend to switch to other beer brands. "Some of them will definitely protest, at least for a while," he said. "But I think most of them will go back.

"After all, what are you going to drink? Most people are not going to go out and fine something completely different."

He said he will have a good idea by next Monday whether people have taken their frustration out on their beer. That will be the day he begins tallying up receipts from the baseball weekend.

As for Jureka, he said he likely will abandon a favorite A-B product. "I drink Bud and Newcastle; and because of this, I will probably just stick to Newcastle."

At Mike Duffy's Pub and Grill in Kirkwood, co-owner Pat Carr said patrons during lunch Monday were not talking about a boycott of the local brew. "We're still supporting our neighbors," he said. "It's not like we are seeing a decrease in anything."

And while Sally Kuhne, bookkeeper and manager of Ozzie's Restaurant and Sports Bar in Westport Plaza said people are "very upset" about the new ownership, "I doubt seriously if anything like a boycott will happen here. They might stop for a while, but I don't think it will happen for very long."

Meanwhile, a second member of the city's Board of Estimate and Apportionment -- Aldermanic President Lewis E. Reed -- warned InBev to look "long and hard at what has made Anheuser-Busch successful before implementing drastic changes.

"The company has a long history of giving back to the community," Reed said. "The charity and assistance to the community that Anheuser-Busch has provided over the years will not soon be forgotten, and it is my hope that the principles for which the company stands will remain."

Comptroller Darlene Green said she would "do all I can to support the company's North American headquarters here in St. Louis." She agreed with Reed in hoping for a continuation of Anheuser-Busch’s exemplary performance as a good corporate citizen.”

On his blog , Mayor Francis Slay wrote, "We do not yet know what impact the inevitable cuts at A-B will have on the employees, on their retirements, on A-B’s corporate philanthropy. Having the top decision makers live across the world instead of across the street is going to change things. Obviously, one of my first goals will be to try to convince InBev, which loves to cut costs, to move to St. Louis where pretty much everything is cheaper than in Belgium."

At least one St. Louisan is less worried about a beer boycott than how the buyout will affect other Anheuser-Busch institutions.

Linda Dodge, who describes herself as the "caretaker" for well-known former Wizard of Oz munchkin Mickey Carroll, says she had been planning a charity celebrity roast for Carroll in honor of his 90th birthday next summer at Grant's Farm.

Now, she says, she is not sure whether Grant's Farm will even be available for such an event.

"It just makes you sick," she said Monday. "I have nothing against foreigners, but I just feel that enough is enough."

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